Category Archives: Social & Emotional

Developmental edge: When praise backfires, the secret behind motivation

The praise parents give to their kids can strongly influence their self-esteem, intelligence, and disposition to take on challenges. However, according to new studies, certain types of praise may actually do more harm than good.

For example, saying: “you are so smart”, may not be the best type of praise; it could even discourage a child to take on new challenges. Research by Carol Dweck, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, showed that children who perceive their success as a result of their inherent intelligence were more prone to have a “fixed mindset”. This means that they see talent and intelligence as something they were born with, not as skills that can be learned and nurtured through effort. This becomes especially problematic when their identities become attached to an outcome.

But what exactly happens when a child grows up hearing praises like “you are so smart”?

According to Dr. John Medina, author of the national bestseller Brain Rules for Baby,  your child will start to perceive her mistakes as failures. This happens because she is used to seeing her previous successes as a static ability, that is, natural talents she was born with rather than a product of her effort. Failure is thus perceived as a lack of ability, which she has no control over. In comparison, when children are praised for effort, they tend to develop. Something that Dweck calls a “growth mindset”. This type of mindset allows children to have an uplifting attitude towards failure. In other words, they will tend to believe that when faced with hardships, having persistence will lead to success.

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The first few years: Social and emotional development

We’re born social animals. From the start, babies love being held, touched, talked to, and smiled at. And it’s no wonder they crave a connection with adults –babies are completely dependent on others throughout their childhood for survival. However, in order to thrive, not just survive, a baby needs more than just food and shelter. Not surprisingly, a baby needs engagement and attention from mom, dad, or his caregiver. What is surprising, however, is that a baby needs a specific type of engagement -a serve and return relationship.

Serve and return interactions with caregivers are necessary for a baby’s brain to wire properly, and to set the right architecture for future learning. They follow the pattern in which a baby ‘serves’ though babbling, facial expressions, or gestures; and adults ‘return’ the serve with a meaningful response –say, another gesture or vocalizing back. These simple interactions allow for the right connections to take place in the baby’s brain, and also create the safe and nurturing environment that they need to develop socially and emotionally.

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